Let's talk about... Cupboard label dates

Let's talk about... Cupboard label dates

With time between shopping trips stretching for longer, are you finally reaching those forgotten items at the back of your cupboard?? It can feel a bit like a C.S. Lewis story sometimes... a never-ending depth to a shelf, with a hidden land of buckwheat flour, tinned cannellini beans and funny shaped pasta.

But if the excitement of finding these items then turns to trepidation when you see the date on the label, read on to find out when there's nothing to worry about or if it should be slam-dunked in the bin.

The golden rules

Of course unopened is best! Once something is opened, the little protective environment where it's been keeping safe will be compromised. 

Anything with vinegar, salt and sugar in abundance is going to be on your side - bacteria and mould see these as foes. It goes without saying that these three things themselves will last until the end of time itself.

Tinned Food

Canned food can have a pretty extended life, especially in our temperate Scottish climate, as long as they have no dings, cracks or bulges - give it a really good look over. But a hiss upon opening or spurting liquid, should set off alarm bells. And it's definitely best to err on the side of caution with any tinned food, as if it's gone bad, it will be really bad for you.

Flour and grains

As long as there are no weevals taking up residence, flour is pretty much good forever, especially if it's plain white. The same goes for white rice and pasta, both of which can be used for a few years if stored properly - dry and preferably in an airtight container. Wholewheat variations of any of these can develop an unusual taste change, so it's best to use these sooner rather than later.

Lentils and beans

Probably the best items that last years beyond their shelf life. The only downside might be a little extra cooking, as they toughen up.


These are one thing that should be used within a few months, as the high fat content means they can go rancid. Want to extend their life? Pop them in an airtight container and keep in the freezer instead.

Oils and vinegars

While vinegars will stand the test of time, once oil is opened and exposed to oxygen, it starts to go rancid. It's also best to keep it away from the stove and away from sunlight, and even better store it in a sealed metal container, rather than a glass bottle. Rancid oil won't make you sick but will ruin your cooking attempts and those nice green salads. Sediment or cloudiness means the oil has just gotten a bit too cold but is nothing to worry about. 

Syrups and sauces

Ketchup, mustard and any Tabasco or chilli sauces can last two years unopened, but mayonnaise only a few months with it's high fat content. Honey again has an almost indefinite shelf life - yes it can become crystallised, but that's easily fixed by heating it (lid off) over a low temperature.

And as a last thought - put a lot of trust in your eyes and nose. Often they're the best judges of whether something is spoiled... and always, always... "if in doubt, throw it out!".

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